Hoag's Race For Alzheimer's Cure

By Orange County Business Journal

August 8, 2019

Hoag Hospital Newport Beach is making progress in research for a cure and ways to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the school “have made it possible to learn how key human brain cells respond to Alzheimer’s, vaulting a major obstacle in the quest to understand and one day vanquish it,” the article said.

Meanwhile, Hoag researchers said they have compelling data from its Orange County Vital Brain Aging Program that shows the benefit of early detection to stave off cognitive impairment and the dementia of Alzheimer’s disease.

“What you do in your mid-age affects what happens in your brain in your 70s and 80s,” said William R. Shankle, director of the Memory and Cognitive Disorders program at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag, in a July 19 statement.

“This [data] represents a shifting attention from Alzheimer’s chronic care to prevention,” he said.

The researchers presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the largest and most influential annual meeting dedicated to the subject.

About 44 million people suffer worldwide from Alzheimer’s disease, including 5.8 million in the U.S., where about 200,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.

Hoag’s Research

Junko Hara, program manager at the Hoag Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, and her team, led by Dr. William Shankle, are looking into not just treatment, but preventing the switch from ever being “clicked” on.

“We’ve seen younger people taking part in the assessments because they are interested in prevention and want to take action,” Shankle said. “They have seen their parents’ or their grandparents’ decline, and they are scared. The stigma of Alzheimer’s is going away gradually. They are ready to do something.”

Hoag offers patients free access to the Orange County Vital Brain Aging Program.

“We do a lot of workshops—primary care physicians, their role in managing community health is more than the patient,” Hara said.

Dementia isn’t a disease, but rather a collection of symptoms signifying a certain cognitive impairment, Hara said. “Dementia is a symptom but there are many types,” Hara said, naming Parkinson’s, stroke, and Alzheimer’s as examples.

There is no “mild” form of dementia—any form of cognitive impairment is impactful, Hara said.

Hoag’s data found that primary care physicians were often not well informed enough to help. About 24% of all participants in the Hoag study were found to be impaired, meaning that their conditions had gone unnoticed by their physicians.

Either physicians would say “don’t worry, you’re just getting old” or patients never raised their concerns to their doctors, according to the report.

The reality is that you don’t lose your memory as you age—that’s a myth; the brain is constantly engaged in neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, Hara said.

And when it comes to brain training games, “There is no way to know how much benefit it has—but there is not no benefit,” Hara said. “The brain is like a muscle. Use it or lose it.”

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